This week, an FDA advisory panel voted unanimously to recommend that the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer vaccine be approved for children as young as 5. If the FDA concurs and the CDC agrees, lower-dose Pfizer vaccinations could soon be available for children ages 5 to 11, via local pediatricians. Just who will be immediately eligible for the doses, and how vaccinating young children might affect school mask policies and other restrictions, remains to be seen.
Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, joins Sophie Bushwick to talk about the news and other stories from the week in science, including potential COVID-related criminal charges against Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, an experimental bionic vision implant, and the possible discovery of an exoplanet in the galaxy Messier 51.
Could Ordinary Household Objects Be Used To Spy On You?
In the movies, if a room is bugged, the microphone might be hidden in a potted plant. But in recent years, researchers have come up with ways to use the trembling leaves of a potted plant, light glancing off a potato chip bag, and even tiny jiggles in the head of a spinning hard drive caused by a nearby conversation to be able to listen to what’s happening in a room, or to gain information about what’s going on nearby.
On a larger scale, other researchers have been able to use the vibrations of an entire building to paint a picture of movements within it—and even the health status of the people inside.
The approach is known as a side-channel attack: Rather than observing something directly, you’re extracting information from something else that has a relationship with the target. Many of the approaches are not straightforward—they require an understanding of the physics involved, and sometimes heavy data-processing or machine learning to interpret the hazy information yielded by these techniques.
Jon Callas of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Hae Young Noh of Stanford, and Kevin Fu of the University of Michigan join host Sophie Bushwick to talk about the risks and opportunities afforded by these sneaky methods of surveillance, and how concerned you should be.
A Maggot Revolution In Modern Medicine
In a bloody battle during World War I, two wounded soldiers were stranded on the battlefield in France, hidden and overlooked under some brush. Suffering femur fractures and flesh wounds around their scrotum and abdomen, they lay abandoned without water, food, or shelter for a whole week. At the time, outcomes for these kinds of wounds were poor: Patients with compound femur fractures had a 75 to 80% mortality rate. By the time the soldiers were rescued and brought to a hospital base, orthopedic surgeon William Baer expected their wounds to be festering, and their conditions fatal. But much to his surprise, neither showed any signs of fever, septicaemia, or blood poisoning.
When his team removed the soldiers’ clothing, they discovered that their flesh wounds were filled with thousands of maggots, or baby flies—little larvae with a massive appetite for decaying matter. Baer was repulsed by the sight, and the team quickly washed off the wriggling maggots. Underneath, instead of the expected pus and bacteria-infected flesh, Baer marveled over “the most remarkable picture.”
“These wounds were filled with the most beautiful pink granulation tissue that one could imagine,” Baer later wrote in a 1931 report in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. Maggots have long been associated with death, but in this case, they were helping the soldiers stay alive. As these insects were simply tucking in for their typical meal of dead, decaying flesh, they were inadvertently aiding the soldiers by cleaning their wounds, keeping infection at bay. The soldiers recovered—saved by their tiny, wriggling “friends which had been doing such noble work,” Baer wrote.
Baer’s paper is one of the first reports of maggots used in medicine, but these insects have been found healing wounds for thousands of years, with references in the Old Testament and in ancient cultures of New South Wales and Northern Myanmar.